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Some time later, in 1919, an influential client dropped by his parents’ cigar shop and tipped them off that the police in St. Gallen had a vacancy and would soon be looking to hire a lieutenant, a position ideal for a young man of military rank. By this point, Grüninger had obtained a teaching diploma and moved to the neighboring town of Au, where he’d joined the staff of a primary school and met Alice Federer, a colleague to whom he’d gotten engaged. Alice didn’t want to live in St. Gallen, but at the urging of his mother, Grüninger applied for the opening in the police department and beat out seventy other candidates for the post.

But they did not deport them. “I thought about instructing the guards to expel them,” Rothmund later informed a colleague of his. ” The story appears to illustrate exactly what Grüninger claimed: that anyone who saw what he did would have done the same thing, even the official who’d designed the policy of deportation. That, moreover, what ultimately determines moral conduct are not character traits, personal beliefs, or political attitudes but situational factors, as not a few social psychologists and philosophers have indeed come to believe.

At Józefów and elsewhere, the executioners “cannot be absolved by the notion that anyone in the same situation would have done as they did,” observed Christopher Browning. ” It is never easy to say no, particularly in extreme situations, but it is always possible, and so it is necessary to try to understand how and why ordinary women and men sometimes make what is difficult but possible real. 1. DISOBEYING THE LAW I. Underhanded Practices One night in November 1938, a fourteen-year-old boy named Erich Billig slipped across the Austrian border into Switzerland.

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